Gig review: Thea Gilmore at Harrogate Theatre

Thea Gilmore
Thea Gilmore
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The lengths some people will go to try to avoid playing an encore.

Thea Gilmore has just performed ‘London’ – a family affair involving her and guitarist Nigel Stonier’s seven-year-old son on rousing fiddle – when the theatre’s fire safety officer appears on stage and informs the audience that they need to evacuate.

The false alarm is somehow fitting for the Oxford-born singer songwriter, who appeared on the scene 16 years ago with fiery lyrics that gained her support from Elvis Costello. In the interim she’s picked up acclaim from other big guns including Bruce Springsteen and Martha Wainwright but, defiantly independent, she’s never managed to translate it into commercial success.

In smoothing out some of her edges of her punk folk she has nonetheless become a staple on Radio 2 with the likes of ‘You’re The Radio’ and ‘This Road’, which are lent lush orchestration by Liz Hanks on cello and Susannah Simmons on violin.

It’s when she informs her tracks with lyrical and vocal bite, however, that she really hits home. ‘Beautiful Hopeful’ sees her acerbically advising up and coming female singers to “play it pretty like a good girl should”, while ‘Goodbye Old England’ is an evocative, ukulele led account of a WWII survivor.

Best of all is ‘The Amazing Floating Man’ – about the banking crisis – which is performed solo and acapella. Her attempt at writing an ‘old modern folk song’, it shows the richness of her liquid alto and could easily be covered by the more traditional likes of The Unthanks or O’Hooley & Tidow.

It’s a vocal versatility that sees her able to confidently navigate different moods – from the swirly romanticism of ‘And We’ll Dance’ to the wise beyond her years ‘Old Soul’ – and cover tracks that many would consider sacrosanct – ‘All You Need Is Love’ (first recorded for a Mojo covermount CD) and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’.

It’s a quiet self-belief that extends to her stage presence and has helped her win a fan base that’s prepared to come out to see her even when she’s “on the road for no reason; with nothing to flog or anything”.

Gig date: June 1

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